Why Does College Cost So Much?


         College tuition is a hot topic these days. For a long time, people did not pay much attention to tuition. Today, things are changing. More and more, people are realizing how high tuition has gotten and now they want that to change. In the following essay, I have tried to tackle a very difficult topic. The problem with this topic was that, during research, I found that almost all of the information regarding it was attack after attack on the college administrations. I found no writings by college administrators even attempting to defend themselves. When I started the research for my first paper this semester, I thought I would just be cruising through another English course, effortlessly composing the required essays, and spewing other peoples' thoughts on topics I could not care less about. That all changed when I discovered the awful truth about how much college tuition had gotten out of control over the years.
         I walked around campus in a daze as dollar-signs clouded my vision and ringing cash registers stung my ears. I couldn't help wondering and worrying about how much I would be paying by the time I graduated in three years. Then I went to my counselor and heard the dreadful news that, because of the major I recently declared, I would be in school for, at least, another four and a half years!
         After the shock subsided, I began rethinking my topic. I dropped the emphasis on current legislation regarding the matter and decided to research what is causing tuition to rise and what students can do about it. There are many theories on why college costs so much these days. Students and their parents are battling with school administrators to get them to stop giving them weak justifications for the increase and start showing them where the money is going.
         Students have every right to be angry about the state of college tuition. In the past 20 years, "tuition increased twice as fast as the overall cost of living (Larson, 63)." Between 1980 and 1990, the average cost of attending public and private colleges increased by 109% and 146%, respectively (Hood, 10). To put these figures into perspective, we can compare them with other rising costs during the same 10-year period. For example: medical care costs rose 117%, new home costs went up 90%, and the cost of a new car went up a mere 37%; meanwhile, median family income only grew by 73% (Hood, 10).
         Those who can afford these outrageous prices, can usually also ignore it. As for the rest of us, when every penny counts, you want to know where every penny is going. College administrators continually give us vague answers by telling us that it is all due to rising costs. "What costs," you ask? Well, conveniently enough, a "cost" is anything the college chooses to spend it's money on (Sowell, 16). In his article "Why College Tuition Costs So Much," Dr. Thomas Sowell believes that administratorsĘ claims that tuition does not cover the full cost of an education are not valid, pointing out that "there is no more reason why tuition should cover all the costs of a college than there is for magazine subscriptions to cover all the costs of producing a magazine (18)." Research is to a college what advertisers are to a magazine (Sowell, 18).
         So where are these rising "costs" coming from? Well, college faculty is one source. Although average faculty salaries were about the same in 1990 as they were in 1970, the number of faculty members increased by 76% (Hood, 11). Meanwhile, total student enrollment had only grown by 59% -- that's 17% less than increase in faculty (Hood, 11). Which makes many wonder if that many faculty are truly necessary.
         Of course, such drastic increases in tuition cannot be solely blamed on extra faculty. There are numerous causes for this phenomenon. A rare cause, but a cause nonetheless, was discovered in a federal investigation of "costs" charged against government research grants by Stanford University. The investigation revealed such "costs" as: a $3,000 cedar-lined chest and $2,000 a month for flower arrangements (both at the home of Stanford President Donald Kennedy), more than $180,000 depreciation on a yacht donated to the athletic department, and $17,500 as part of the cost of a wedding reception when Mr. Kennedy got remarried (Sowell, 16).
         The last cause for tuition inflation that I want to discuss (although there are many, many more out there) involves financial aid. It starts off, however, with the exploitation of an American dream. It has become painfully obvious that the American public is being taken advantage of. Americans see college as an important key to being successful later in life. We also believe that, as Americans, we have a right to have the tools to become successful within our reach. Higher education is highly valued by most Americans, but, sadly, many cannot afford to attend colleges or universities.
         It seems that colleges and universities know how much employers look for employees with a college education. Both the American public and the college administrators are aware of the effect a college education has on a person's financial success later in life. Knowing how much people value higher education, colleges are constantly pushing the envelope, seeing how much they can squeeze out of their students. In response, students are forced to apply for financial aid.
         "The fastest-growing expense at Penn and nearly every other university is financial aid (Larson, 67)." Like many other universities, Penn has nearly half of its students receiving some form of financial aid. The cost of financial aid is one of the most commonly used excuses for rising tuition. This is where what I call the 'run-around' begins. It seems logical (and feasible) that if colleges lowered their tuition, students would require considerably less financial aid and, consequently, schools would not feel forced to raise tuition. The key to this is to stop going in circles.
         Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that colleges will be catching on to this difficult concept anytime in the near future. So it seems that it is up to us, as students to make the change. There are two ways that we can do this, the political way and the personal way.
         The political way requires students (and their parents) to make their voices be heard. Keep yourself up-to-date with what is going on around campus. Most importantly, watch out for your school's tuition hearings and be sure to attend them! Tuition hearings are a great opportunity to have your voice be heard. Encourage your friends and parents to attend also. Don't be afraid to tell them how you feel about the status of tuition.
         Another way to make your voice be heard is to contact the offices of your state legislators. Ask about their positions on the state of college tuition. If they feel the same as you do, ask about how you can get involved in getting bills passed that may positively affect college tuition. If they don't have anything you can get involved in, be sure they know that you support them, that the status of college tuition is a very important topic to you, and offer to volunteer your time if anything concerning tuition comes up.
         For those of you who prefer to be quiet protesters, there is a more personal way you can deal with the continuing rise of college tuition. Eventually, if enough people follow plans like this one, administrators will hopefully get the hint and lower tuition. The key to this plan is remembering that an education is what you make of it.
         Step one is to figure out what kind of education you want. Four year colleges aren't the only way to go. Take into consideration junior colleges and vocational schools. You may also want to think about taking a year off to travel or work before continuing your education (Lieber, 82). Many people find that the time off helps them figure out what they really want to do which pays off in the long run because they don't waste time and money taking classes they don't need. Knowing what you want to do can save you lots of money.
         The second step is to figure out what you want and need in a school. TIME magazine and The Princeton Review have put out a guide called "The Best College for You and How to Get In." The magazine is filled with many factors you need to consider when choosing a school. They suggest that you start out by getting out a piece of paper and writing down 20 of your interests and goals, then cut it down to your top 10 and start find the schools that match up (Anonymous, 21).
         Step three is to gather as much information about the schools you want to apply to as you possibly can. If possible, try to visit them all (preferably on a day classes are in session ū this gives you the best feeling of the school possible). If you can't visit all the schools, ask if they have any video tours available.
         The last (and most important) step in you silent protest is to pick the most affordable school from your list. I can't emphasize enough that an education is purely what YOU make of it. Just because a school is expensive doesn't necessarily mean that you will automatically get the best education. Likewise, an affordable school does not always mean you will be doomed to a lesser education. As long as you study hard and make the most of your classes, you will do well wherever you go.
         Neither of these plans are guaranteed to take tuition down immediately. Over time, however, something good is bound to come of it. If enough people get out there and speak their minds, people will hear it and, eventually, someone will listen. Luckily for the schools, we value our education too much to engage in a boycott of the system to get our way. Instead, with a silent boycott, we can stay away from over-priced schools knowing that we can still get a good education at an affordable price. If enough people participate in this silent boycott, administrators are bound to see what's happening and, hopefully, get the hint that it is time for a change.


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haylyew@imap1.asu.edu